School Starting

Let me be clear, I was excited for summer.

I was excited to can sta


y up later and sleep in more frequently. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to plan weekday outfits the night before. I was excited to have opportunities to travel and see far-flung family members. I was excited to spend time in the garden and at the park. I was excited to read books and play games.

But now I am just as excited for school.

When I was a kid, I liked


the freedom of summer, the untetheredness. The fact that it barely mattered what time of day it was, or day of the week.

But I there were things




did not enjoy about summer.

I saw my friends much less frequently. My closest friends were almost always the ones I went to school with. I played sports and did 4-H with other kids, but I didn’t spend the necessary time with them to forge the same bonds as I had with my classmates.

The lack of structure I sometimes love? Also frequently proves to be my downfall. Without places to go and people to se

e, I will stay home without pants on. That’s fine every now and then, but it’s not something I want to make a habit of, and it’s not my favorite thing about my


self. And when I have no externally imposed structure, when I’m the one who has to create structure and enforce it? That’s a challenge for me. Sometimes I wonder how I get any


thing done, not because I’m so busy, but because I struggle with self-discipline, follow-through, and taking initiative at home.

11949837731247653085school_hallway_gerald_g-_01-svg-medFinally, I missed recognition. When I was a kid, I missed school because I was good at school. I could get A’s and sometimes even rewards for good behavior. I did not get the same recognition at home; I didn’t get graded on doing chores or get kudos for not killing my siblings. Not that my home life was particularly bad, but I received constant validation from my teachers and much less consistent attention from my parents. I felt like I was a much better student than I was a daughter. And I had one of those decent childhoods. For many of my students – many of our students – school is the place where they are treated best. I have a great home life now, but I also really enjoy the mutual acknowledgement, respect, and even love I build throughout the year with my students.








So, halfway into September, despite the tiredness and the worn-out vocal cords, I still feel like I’m back where I belong.


School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Seven

This was the last week of school.

This was the week I gave students the closest thing to “free time” they ever get when using technology: a menu of choices with the ability to ask for more choices that I might have been unaware of or forgotten.

Except there was an element that we had never had before.


Okay, so if you follow me on Twitter, you certainly knew about the chickens already. I think I’ll write about them in more detail in their own post. But to summarize, I had my afterschool science group set up and study an incubator. The program ended the week before the chickens were due to hatch. I kept the incubator in the computer lab so when chicks hatched, we livestreamed it using Periscope so everyone in the building could see without issues. The chicks hung out in my room until the last day of school (today). Another teacher took them to her father, a farmer, who will try to provide us with fertile eggs in the future so we can repeat the activity.

And it did sort of work out, class management-wise.


 One of the more techie things I did this week was DJ the end of year carnival. I’m really glad I solicited requests in advance, firstly because it’s clear I am not very aware of what music the kids are into lately. Secondly, because I was able to find clean versions of some songs that were requested.

Things I Did Well: Everyone I was responsible for made it to the end of the week healthy. Even fourteen chicks.

Things I Will Do Better: Friday Caitlin left Tuesday Caitlin a heck of a lot to do. Friday Caitlin feels some guilt. But not enough to have actually done more.

Cold Prickly: Lots of physical damage this week. I’m talking about folks in the building, not the technology. The person who wore the “I Survived Field Day” shirt on Field Day ended up in the emergency room before noon. This is not a joke, but she did turn out okay so it’s still kind of funny.


Warm Fuzzy: Doesn’t get much warmer or fuzzier than this. Happy summertime!

A Little Wind Beneath My Wings

Almost nothing invigorates me more than when grown-ups outside our school take our kids seriously.

Our school district uses a vendor assessment system called i-Ready to track our students’ growth throughout the school year. Generally students spend about an hour on math lessons and an hour on reading lessons on i-Ready per week. We do a lot of incentives, like teachers giving raffle tickets for each lesson passed and then doing a drawing for a special lunch with the principal.

Even with incentives, many students hit a wall with i-Ready, motivationally speaking, in January and February. They just got burned out, and I can’t really blame them – it’s just how it feels. Teachers ramped up encouragement and incentives, but even they were getting frustrated with repeated issues running i-Ready in Google Chrome browsers.

So when students logged in this morning, they were thrilled to see new games had been added. It was a very different atmosphere in the computer lab! One student in particular named Zakhary was so excited, he said “thank you” to every adult in the room. I said to him, “Actually, we didn’t turn those games on. The people at the i-Ready company did. Want to say thank you to them?”

Of course he did! He was so excited!

He dictated the message and I wrote it down. He held his message and I took a picture. Then, I tweeted it.

Now, even just this much was invigorating for Zakhary. But then, at the very very end of our school day (we were lined up for dismissal), I got a Twitter notification.

Luckily, Zakhary’s homeroom is just across the hall, so right before buses were called I went to their doorway, laptop in hand. His entire class gathered around to see the photo and listen closely as I read out the message. (Having a class quietly listening at dismissal is nothing short of a small miracle, by the way.)

So now not only is Zakhary excited about new i-Ready games, his whole class is excited for him that he was acknowledged by professional adults who created the games. And as a teacher, I’m exhilarated that someone outside our community took my student seriously. I too have a renewed investment in this product.

It’s a little like the zoo project we did last year – it makes a huge difference to student engagement when others are also engaged with them as partners in their learning.

School Week Round-Up: Week Seventeen

Only four more school days until winter break, only four more school days until winter break…

Lessons: Back to our AIR Test Prep Prompts this week. In many ways, kids are improving. Many third graders are starting to write multi-paragraph responses.

Support: So, there is the way technology works… and then there’s the way we expect it to work. The second one is a bit of an issue. A coworker brought her students to the computer lab at a time when I couldn’t also be there this week. She was frustrated at how long it took for the kids to log into their emails… because she thought our Mac desktops worked like our Chromebooks. I don’t know how to bridge this gap between reality and expectations, especially when expectations are often taken for granted and thus left unspoken. How do other people address this when it comes up in their workplace?

Things I Did Well: 
I was much more engaged in our  district Twitter chat this week and I think I was somewhat helpful to other teachers. The idea was that different folks would take turns share their teaching challenges, and everyone else would come up with ideas and resources to help. I really, really, really enjoy that idea, because so many of my slumps happen at times when I feel “tapped out” and unable to come up with creative solutions. And so often, when you ask for help, you either feel like you’re imposing or giving up or complaining. I hope we do that kind of chat again soon, and that more elementary level teachers participate. I would love to get some ideas for myself when it comes to teaching students about writing responses to passages they’ve read!

Things I Will Do Better: I fell behind with the grading of those AIR Test Prep Prompts again. I caught up with one grade level, one more grade level to go. If procrastination was an Olympic sport, I would medal.

Cold Prickly: “Cold Prickly” is not quite the right term for this, but I spent more time this week reflecting on Sandy Hook than I have since that day four years ago. It is a difficult subject to think about. I remember that actual week. I had a fifth grade reading class, and the students started asking about what to do if an intruder came into our classroom with a gun. I told them of the spaces we would hide, but they all imagined they would be tough and fight an intruder successfully, the way we all imagine we would if we were heroes in an action film.

I don’t know for sure how they would have reacted in that actual scenario. In fact, I’m not sure how I’d react. I know how I’d want to react, and I imagine sometimes the best course of action based on slightly different circumstances — where I am, where kids are, which kids are with me, what weapons an intruder might have, whether or not they were a stranger — it’s a weird rabbit hole I kept mentally revisiting.And that the easiest thing to hope for is also statistically the likeliest (that such a thing never happens) feels like a cop-out.

Warm FuzzyWe had our first snow day! Okay, so technically it was a “cold” day, since it was called more due to wind chill than accumulation. But I’m not complaining!

Also a first grade student gave me a Christmas present, which I don’t get as often as a homeroom teacher does. It should give a little insight into my actual teaching style that I’m not sure comes across in blog form.

I also dressed like a Christmas tree, because my reindeer sweater has electronic components and can’t be washed, so I have to let it air out for a few days between wearings. I’m a sense-maker like that.

School Week Round-Up: Week Eleven

Week one-million! Okay, I’m exaggerating, it’s only week eleven. But this is one of those weeks where it feels like forever.

Lessons: First graders are using Google Drive this week for the first time with me, particularly Google Slides. I showed them how to add shapes and change their size and color. Many of them figured out how to add text on their own, and that knowledge spread. That kind of thing is so interesting to observe, since it gives me an idea on what I can expect out of them in the future.

Support: So our school district got more bandwidth, and it’s such a relief. Things are just going more smoothly as a result.

Things I Did Well: This week I felt good in my own skin, which is not really a professional victory, but it is professional-adjacent. I am very aware of how enclothed cognition impacts my attitude. In fact, when I’m feeling my worst, I’m usually dressing my best. My “best” might not be the most professional clothes I own, but clothes that make me feel good about myself.

Things I Will Do Better: I definitely felt a bit grumpy and short-tempered this week. One of the things I’m very aware of as a teacher is how my reactions to things often have a lot less to do with students, and more to do with me myself. For example, one day I might be absolutely fine with a lot of noise. But maybe the next day I’ve got a headache and would really prefer it more quiet. But those kinds of things are not things kids can know about me, especially since those are often things I’m only aware of in myself if I’m paying attention. It would be unfair to punish students one day for behavior that was acceptable the day before. So I try to pay attention to myself; accept support when it comes (like relying on other teachers to step up during bus dismissal); and, when reasonable, communicate directly with students about what I might be feeling without making them responsible for my feelings.

To be perfectly honest, this is one of the reasons I find a class pet to be useful. It’s not really appropriate to say to kids, “Hey, I need you to chill today, because I’m PMSing really bad.” Somehow, though, it seems okay (if still manipulative) to put that on the lizard. “Hey, Qwerty seems to be really grouchy today, so maybe we should try to be extra-quiet?” It works the other way too. Sometimes when I notice a student having an off day, I tell them Qwerty is having an off day, could they please give him a pep talk? Obviously he listens (what choice does he have) but really they’re giving the pep talk to themselves. It’s not a foolproof plan, but it gives kids the chance to put their feelings into words, identify with their feelings, and decide what to do with or about those feelings.

Cold Prickly: Diffusion of responsibility. Our dismissal duties are shared among a wide pool of people, largely to make sure there’s always someone there. But sometimes it feels like there are more people than needed to accomplish a task. For example, for car rider dismissal, there are four or five teachers who man the walkie-talkies and communicate about the specific kids to send out, and when. But there’s only four walkie-talkies, so the other teachers at that duty mind the children as they’re called. As time has gone by, children became accustomed to the routine and are pretty chill now. So, from the outside looking in, it appears as though the child-minding teachers are socializing with each other at least as much as they’re actually minding the children. I don’t begrudge them this, because they also rotate in and out with the walkie-talkie teachers.

In fact, I don’t even have car rider duty. I have a bus duty, where we gather two busloads of students in the cafeteria and dismiss them from there. I took this duty because I had a better ability than other teachers to get there in a timely manner, otherwise groups of students were reaching the cafeteria before teachers were and were unsupervised until an adult arrived. This week, there was a combination of circumstances where I was the only teacher in there for far too long. I could tell it was too long because our buses were waiting outside, but I couldn’t actually take the children to the bus without leaving the other busload of children unsupervised. I had to call the office and ask them to use the announcements system to summon others to the cafeteria.

Now, I don’t know why the other teachers didn’t show, or showed so late. Maybe some were on their way when I had the announcement made. But it seemed to me to be a problem with the diffusion of responsibility. I was raised in a large family; often there would be an important chore that needed done. But you would look at the stack of dishes in the sink, calculate how many other people lived in the house, and think to yourself, “There are x number of people who can and probably will do that; therefore I do not have to.” I think bus duty has become the same way. The people who take on the most active roles are the ones most consistently there. Others feel that, since those other people are there to get things done, they’re less necessary and it won’t be a huge loss if they don’t show. I think this is fine for individuals to experience on occasion, but when many or even most people experience it on the same day, it can lead to big problems.


Warm Fuzzy: My poop emoji hairstyle I wore on October 31st. I sat in a meeting for 30 minutes before any other adults noticed it, and the one who did thought it was a little monster. But kids recognized what it was instantly.

Ain’t I a stinker?

School Week Round-Up: Week Nine

Week Nine! You know what that means, right? End of the first nine weeks, or — end of the first quarter! Report cards!

LessonsI think my feedback issue is improving. I used Alice Keeler’s Epic Rubric script to deliver our rubrics to all third graders’ email addresses so they could see for themselves how they did. The first two classes, I tried to have them leave comments on Google Classroom with new, focused goals. For reasons relating to time management and scaffolding, that wasn’t working; so I made a Google Forms exit slip  for the last three classes that worked a little better for me.

I also had my first “substitute” of the year. It was actually only for one whole class, plus two half classes, so that I could attend meetings. And, my class was covered by a colleague, so not a true sub experience. (I have missed half a day so far this school year for a dentist appointment, but it managed to get done during my lunch and prep period so I didn’t actually miss any classes.) Anyway, I am sometimes a little skittish about subs; I have had a gamut of experience with them. But I told my colleague, “They all know how to get to Google Classroom, and if they don’t know, they all have directions by their seat. The directions for their activity is on Google Classroom. They should get their on their own, they should read and follow directions on their own, basically you’re just there to facilitate.” It went really well for second grade! It was a slightly bumpier experience for third grade, because there were more steps and expectations (that’s actually why I changed the lesson mid-week). But things got done, so I call it a success!

Support: My spreadsheet went over really well with my colleagues. So that was a plus. But, I felt like this week, I used up all my brain cells and energy during the first few days. By the time Friday arrived, I was running on empty. And that stunk, because that was the half-day set aside for us to work on report cards. There were some elements that weren’t showing up as they should have, and I couldn’t wrap my tired mind around troubleshooting. At least once, it was a simple drop-down box messing with me that I just wasn’t seeing.

Things I Did Well: I’m going with the spreadsheet on this one.

Things I Will Do Better: Self-care. Part of the reason I burned out midweek is that I over-scheduled myself outside of school hours. I need to be protective of my “me” time, sometimes. I am the kind of person who needs seven or eight hours of decent sleep a night and good food in my belly, and the way I stretched myself this past week, I didn’t always get everything I needed to keep my energy up.

Cold Prickly: 

We have gnats.

I think due to unseasonably warm weather. I guess our custodians were hunting for food being left in places it shouldn’t be, but I was noticing gnats everywhere. In fact, my mom recommended this gnat trap when I went to her house and realized she was struggling with gnats too. It’s apple cider vinegar with a dash of dish soap, and you create a paper funnel from the mouth of the jar or cup down to the liquid. Tempted by the apple smell, gnats venture down. But, wet, they can’t fly back up. They can’t crawl back up either because the dish soap on them makes them slippery. Not all gnats were trapped this way; others were flying around the top of the jar but their escape route was still blocked by paper. The above photos were “before” and “after” just one eight hour period. After a couple of days I had dozens and dozens of dead gnats in my jar. And now, luckily, the weather has taken a turn, so hopefully the gnats will go away for a while.

Warm Fuzzy: We had our Spirit Week this week, where we dressed up according to different themes each day, culminating in some high school athletes visiting us Friday morning for a pep rally. Though I loved Superhero Day (because, really, any excuse to wear my Captain America outfit), I think my favorite was actually Sports Day. If you know how non-athletic I am, you would be shocked, but my sister Rose — err, I mean Youngstown Tune-Up — started playing for Burning River Roller Derby this past summer, and I became a super-fan. I figured most folks would be representing football, baseball, soccer… so I decided to represent roller derby! I didn’t wear skates (that seemed distracting and dangerous) but I did borrow padding from my sister’s teammate Sophonda Drama. (I also borrowed a rainbow tutu my sister wore for a pride parade, because really, who can resist a rainbow tutu?). Kids asked about my sport all day, and I got to teach them about jammers and blockers and pivots. At one point a student asked me, “What’s roller derby?” just as our custodian Mr. Barber walked by. “IT’S AWESOME!” he cheered without breaking his stride. He misses the banked track, though.

So my thanks to Youngstown Tune-Up and Sophonda Drama for helping me become my roller derby alter-ego, Drisco Inferno. (A joke that most kids don’t get, but they still think it sounds cool.)

Third Graders on Backchannels

A backchannel is a secondary route for the passage of information. Back in my day, backchannels involved elaborately folded pieces of notebook paper covered in gel pen missives. These days you can allow students to use technological backchannels to communicate to one another while the teacher instructs the room at large, or focuses on specific students.

Some of my current third graders figured out how to use the chat function in a shared Google document last year, in second grade. I’m still impressed with them for how they used it well, for the most part. Though some students occasionally spam the chat with keyboard mashing or off-topic chatter, most use it like this:


I thought it was really apt that they were using a the rubric for this kind of backchannel today. It saves students time because they don’t have to wait for the teacher’s attention, and I can focus on students who face bigger challenges than spelling and grammar. It’s also very engaging to them (especially since I encourage them to use emoji in moderation).

This type of backchannel is good for me to use, because as the creator and sharer of the document in Google Classroom, I can have it open on my own computer. Even if kids try to hide something, as long as I don’t close the tab, I can scroll up and find it. The worst message I’ve seen posted in the chat has been keyboard mashing, since they know I can see and share their messages via screenshots. They’re also aware that I might pop in “undercover” using a classmate’s account, because maybe I was looking over someone’s shoulder when I saw a big question (or poor choice of message) appear.

I can get and give pretty immediate feedback from students this way, too, and they can give feedback to each other. When I have a whole class on it, the chat frequently moves too fast to reasonably keep up with, but I could see it as a great tool for small groups collaborating on a project together.


I might see what they can do on Padlet next.

Invisible Work

When I got home from work today, I noticed my apartment had been vacuumed. Somebody cooked dinner, and when I went to use the restroom, I noticed the toilet had been scrubbed since yesterday.

I didn’t do any of those things. And since I am fifty percent of the people living here, by logical reasoning, the only explanation is that my spouse did those things. Thank you, spouse!
Cooking and cleaning can sometimes turn into invisible work, which means work we take for granted. You don’t really think about the tasks because you aren’t the one who does them. Because of previous imbalances in who did which chores in our household, I try to make a point of seeing what work my spouse does, invisible as it may seem, and thanking him for it.

I was thinking about this after dinner, about how easy it can be to let the work others do become invisible. We frequently don’t realize how much a person does until they are not there to do it. I notice this especially in a social workplace like a school. Things run ever so much more smoothly when everyone is there.

So when a teacher friend shared this link on Facebook, I laughed — a lot. In less than two minutes, NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia lists all the things she, as a teacher, might do in a day. And I think it might even only be a partial list! Much of what teachers do is invisible, even to other teachers. We only notice how helpful and important others are when they’re not there to do their normal things. And if what we do is invisible to each other, there’s no way people outside of schools could fully understand the scope and spectrum of what a teacher does in a day.

So just as I thanked my spouse for doing the “invisible” work at home, I am going to make a point of the people doing invisible work at school this month. The people who keep wastebaskets empty and coffee pots full. The people who stand outside, reminding cars to drive slowly; the people who work inside, keeping copies coming fast. Even some of the students do invisible work, even if they don’t have official classroom jobs; they deserve thanks and respect for that.

And I think I will cast my net wider than that, even. I am thankful for the person in the coffee shop drive-thru who counts out my change. I am thankful for the person who gathers the shopping carts in the grocery store parking lot. I am thankful for the landlord who comes and changes the light bulbs in the apartment building hallway.

Mr. Rogers once advised us, in times of tragedy, to look for the helpers. I want to remind us, on ordinary times, to see the day to day do-ers as well. (And don’t forget to look in a mirror!)